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Category: Wine of the Week

Exopto: A new star arises in the Rioja Horizon

It’s two years or so since I first met Tom Puyaubert and tasted his range of wines, and I instantly knew that this was something to take notice of. I have tasted some occational wines since then, and they have never disappointed. Now at wine bistró Guardaviñas in Logroño, capital of La Rioja, I tasted the Horizonte again. Read about the visit here.

Tom Puyaubert, Exopto

Tom is one of the so-called Rioja’n’Rollers, a new generation vintners that put their focus on terroir. Exopto comprises 10 ha, divided into 15 micro-plots, of 30-90 years old bush-trained vines. He has chosen the vineyards to be able to blend from different types of soil, orientation, altitude and so on. The winery is in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), the tempranillo vineyards are found on calcareous soils in Ábalos (Rioja Alta, but near Labastida, San Vicente, Laguardia, i.e. the road that snakes in and out of Alta and Alavesa). For Tom the Atlantic influence of this site is ideal to express the refined fruit and the complexity of the variety. The garnacha and graciano is mostly grown in sandy soil near the Monte Yerga range in the south-east, where maturation especially of the garnacha is easier. The altitude is around 1.000 meters (in Rioja Baja, imagine).

Horizonte is based on tempranillo with around 10% each of garnacha and graciano. The fermentation was in oak vats and concrete tanks at 22-26ºC. It was macerated for 21 days, and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (20% first use).

Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto)

Dark, dense ruby colour. On the nose blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long.

Yes, the wine is young. Yes, it’s maybe too young. But if you don’t grab it now you will never see it, and never taste it again, because the production is so small. The best would obviously be to buy some and put them aside for a few years.

Price: Medium

Food: Roasts, game, stews, other meat dishes

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1701, biodynamic Franciacorta

1701 was the first certified biodynamic producer in Franciacorta. I met Rhona and Federico at the Real Wine fair last year, and I tasted the Brut again at a London wine bar recently.

They are located in an old magnificent villa near Cazzago San Martino, Franciacorta, and the property includes around 10 hectares of vineyards.

Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni (London last year)

The production is low-intervention, with no dosage and sulphur only when absolutely needed.

This wine is a blend of Chardonnay 85% and Pinot Nero 15%. Whole bunches are put into stainless steel, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as usual. It stays 30 months on lees before the final bottling. It’s just lightly filtrated.

1701 Franciacorta Brut (Soc. Agr. 1701)

Light yellow with green tones, creamy mousse. Fresh aroma of citrus, mature apples, with some chalky, mineral notes. Appealing, fresh fruit in the mouth, and an acidity that contributes to the lingering finish.

Price: Medium

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Orange at Egget, Stavanger

Mariano Taberner is one of the highest esteemed makers of natural wine near the Spanish eastern coast. Last time in the region I almost managed to make it up to his place, but I didn’t manage due to unpredicted circumstances.

Last Tuesday I was surprisingly able to taste two of his wines at Egget (The Egg) in Stavanger, Norway, close to where I live. This is a unique place in my part of the world, a restaurant with a focus on natural wines, and with well-prepared dishes to go with them. Here is a report from a former visit.

This time we were accompanied by sommelier Mikela Tomine, wine student in the WSET system, and Nikita, from the kitchen. I was accompanied by my daughter, and they easily juggled her vegan options.

Egget’s Mikela preparing a cheeseboard for a customer

The wine is made in the small village  La Portera in DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia. Bodegas Cueva dates back to the 18th century, and still only uses traditional methods. Here is full respect for the environment, biodiversity, and health too, claims Mariano Taberner. The main grapes for reds are the central/northern tempranillo and the more bobal, a more local grape (and the variety behind our other Cueva wine that night).

The average production is only 20.000 bottles. All wines are made in the most natural way, from organically grown grapes, spontaneous fermentation, no chemicals, unfined and unfiltered – nothing added, nothing taken away. The wine in question is based on the varieties tardana and macabeo, The local tardana is so named because of the very late ripening, and still at the end of October the alcohol, or more correctly: the sugar content, is very low. Macabeo is then harvested one month ago, and the finished macabeo is slowly blended with the freshly made tardana. Fermentation for both is largely with skins. The two undergo the secondary, malo-lactic fermentation together.

Mariano Taberner (credit: B. Cueva)

Orange Tardana & Macabeo 2015 (Bodegas Cueva)

Deep orange colour, slightly cloudy. Aroma of orange peel, white flowers, and a touch of tropical fruits and white pepper. Round and luscious in the mouth, grapey, with just enough acidity to keep it together, and an agreeable orange peel-bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with skate wing and celeriac, with slices of green apple, and an aïoli with less garlic than usual. But it should go with a variety of fish and seafood, the rice dishes of the region (paella style), vegetarian/vegan dishes, light meat, carpaccio and more

 

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On the Friulian path to Slovenia

Carso, or Kras, is the Friulian region that continues even if the Italian border is crossed. In fact the Slovenians proposed a two-country designation, to showcase all things in common, from soil and climate to political history.

San Michele del Carso is where the Castello di Rubbia is found. Here are reminiscents from the Bronze Age, as well as the First World War, anti-atomic bunkers from the “cold war” and much more.

Here in the hillside over San Michele is the historic Ušje vineyard, covering 13 hectares. The typically Carsic terrain: a rocky terrain composed of limestone and red soil, originated from a specific geological phenomenon, the so-called carsism. The landscape enjoys a Mediterranean climatic influence.

Terrano, or teran, is one of the traditional grape varieties, together with the white vitovska and also Istrian malvasia. Recent research carried out by the Universities of Trieste and the University of Ljubljana shows that terrano wine helps the body to assimilate iron, and that the content of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, polyphenols and resveratrol are higher than in most known red wines.

The winery employs long macerations and fermentations with indigenous yeasts. Depending on the vintage, the macerations will range from ten days to three months. Some times the wine is transfered to used Slavonian oak barriques. This quote says a lot: “Following the example of nature, we also reject standards. We just feel the wine.”

This particular wine is made from 100% terrano vines of an average age of 18 years. They were hand-picked at the end of September, de-stemmed, fermented in steel with indigenous yeasts at controlled temperature (20°), macerated on the skins for up to twenty days. It was then aged for more or less 15 months on lees. Malo-lactic fermentation and stabilization came when it came, and the wine was bottled after 3 years without filtration. Partial maturation took place in used Slavonian oak barrels.

Terrano Carso-Kras 2013 (Castello di Rubbia)

Dark red, young colour. Aroma of violets, red fruits (raspberry, blueberry), hints of pepper and undergrowth. Fresh and vibrant in the mouth, good concentration, with an appealing tannic grip, and an acidity that contributes to the long finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Various meat (the winery suggests carsolina – kraški filet, and how could we contradict?), cold cuts and salami. Another local dish is grilled eel

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The original Pico Verdelho

António Maçanita is perhaps most known from his Fita Preta project in Alentejo, and maybe some have heard about the partnership with his sister Joana in the Douro.

But now, a few words about his work in the AçoresPreservation of the indigenous grape varieties is a key concept. And showing the grapes’, and the terroir’s potential, especially for white wines, is maybe his most important task there.

 (photo credit: AWC)

I had just become aware of this project through the Verdelho wine before I left for Portugal. But at the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto I had the possibility to meet him. In fact his wine showed up already at the opening dinner.

Here it is. Varietal 100% verdelho. Verdelho, “the original”, this to distinguish it from grapes that have been wrongly confused with it (such as gouveio, godello, verdejo and more).

It was harvested manually. Whole bunch pressing was carried out, natural racking
after 24 hours, and fermentation in 600 to 1000 litre steel tanks. Designation: the Pico sub-region (on the west of the island) within the Açores IG area.

Last words: About the possible confusion between Azores – Açores (on the label you can read both), the former is English, the latter Portuguese.

Verdelho o Original 2016 (Azores Wine Company)

Light yellow, hints of green. Aroma with citrus, yellow apples, herbs, slightly nutty. Clean, fresh, quite full, salty mineral, and long.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled fish, seafood, salads, perfect with oysters

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A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

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Authentic Algarve: Monte da Casteleja

At the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto one of the biggest surprises came from the touristic southern coast of Algarve. Already at the welcome dinner at Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant, when a 10 days skin-contact white was presented (outside the programme), I decided that this producer’s table was one to visit.

Guillaume Abel Luís Leroux’s father is French, and his mother is from western Algarve. It was his father that introduced him to the world of wine, and when he inherited a piece of land from his mother’s family he decided to leave the Douro (where he had worked with Taylor and Quinta do Côtto a.o.). In 2000 he started to recover the vineyards at Monte da Casteleja near Lagos in order to make organic wines. Here he wants to combine modern technology with ancient methods, such as treading the grapes, macerate with stems – and also ageing in barrels.

 Guillaume Leroux

Monte da Casteleja’s soil is unique to the area, explains Guillaume, good for vine growing, medium depth with a high percentage of clay and limestone. Rainfall is a sparse as 400 mm per year, mainly during the winter months, which naturally limits vine growing. The proximity to the sea ensures less water stress and long maturations, while the nocturnal northerly breezes improve colour and flavour concentration.

This week’s wine is made from bastardo 60% and the rest alfrocheiro. The grapes were partly destemmed, then foottrodden for four hours, before a spontaneous fermentation that lasted for three weeks at up to 26ºC. The wine then stayed in big barrels of Portuguese and French oak for 20 months.

 From the adega (credit: Monte da C.)

Monte da Casteleja Tinto 2015 (Monte da Casteleja)

Dark cherry red. Floral aroma (violets), mint, forest fruits and underwood. Good structure, with evident tannins and an adecuate acidity to match.

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game, pasta and much more. The producer’ website suggests local fare like bean stews and fig cake

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Terras de Tavares 1997, a well-matured Dão

Before this week I had known this producer mostly for his entry-level Rufia! wines (such as the one mentioned here). That is totally changed now after a visit, complete with dinner, breakfast and and overnight stay in João and Luisa’s agro-tourism facilities.

Now I have come to know a man with deep knowledge, not only of vinegrowing, but in many other fields, such as culture and cooking, and one who loves the sport of discussion. He refreshed my memory too, as we had in fact met at a tasting of Dão rosés many years ago.

João Tavares da Pina’s farm Quinta da Boavista is located outside Penalva do Castelo, Dão. We are in a cool climate around 500 meters above sea level, and the soil is clay shale (from marine sediments) and a small percentage of the, for Dão, usual granite. This mixture gives both freshness and mineraliy. Some more key words are recovering of endangered grape varieties, biodiversity, no-till, manual harvest, chamomile or lavender at the beginning of a vine row, spontaneous fermentation and only a small dose of sulphur.

João looks for freshness, that’s true, but also the decadent underwood aromas, and mushrooms. To achieve this he uses high fermentation temperatures (32°C is not unusual). Also, the jaen grape is well suited to this area’s longer growing season.

The 1997 was the first wine after having decided not to sell all the grapes to the cooperative. This is a blend of jaen and touriga nacional, around 60-40.

Terras de Tavares Reserva 1997 (João Tavares da Pina, Quinta da Boavvista)

Red colour with some evolution. Forest fruits, aromatic herbs and mushrooms. Fine structure, with just the right touch of tannins and acidity. Long and elegant. I would say fresh, and definitely full of life.

Price: Medium

 

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Organic sherry, yes it exists

Delgado Zuleta, the oldest family owned winery in the Sherry region, bottled the first organic manzanilla in 2016, which they have launched under the name Entusiástico.

It is the result of a three years joint venture with the organic vine grower Pepe Cabral with organic palomino grapes from a 1 hectar vineyard in the Burujena pago in Trebujena to the north-east of Sanlúcar.

Entusiástico is a classic manzanilla aged in very old barrels, using the traditional criaderas and solera system, but using organic grapes and organic wine alcohol. It’s also labelled “en rama”, meaning that it’s only lightly filtered, as close as possible to how the wine is in the barrel. It comes in a transparent glass bottle, with an organic cork closure and a very distinctive purple label showing a painting by the Russian painter Igor Andriev.

The first release was only 1200 bottles, but the interest made the producers take the decision to expand capacity in the coming years.

The wine started after the 2012 harvest and has been matured under flor for two years in two barrels taken from the La Goya manzanilla solera. In the following years the butts have been refreshed with new mosto twice a year – a slower rate than La Goya for instance, resulting in a more concentrated wine in less time. The solera has expanded over the years as well.

I tasted it at the release. More recently there was a second edition, now officially under the Delgado Zuleta brand with a different presentation. This tasting note is thus based on this label.

 

Manzanilla Entusiástico (Delgado Zuleta)

Golden yellow colour. Very fresh on the nose, with flowery notes, herbs, yeasty, some citrus (lemon), but with mature apples too. In the mouth it’s completely dry, grapey, quite light in concentration, with the fruits from the nose coming back.

Price: Low

Food: Traditional seafood and fish platters from the region, but also salads, vegetarian dishes, ceviche and light meat

 

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A meaty Marenas monastrell

José Miguel Marqués is one of the leading figures in the Spanish natural wine movement. His winery, Viñedo y Bodega Marenas, is found in the outskirts of Montilla. This week’ pick is one of his most admired wines, the Cerro Encinas, meaning something like oak hill. Read more about his wine philosophy and that 6 hectare vineyard here.

It’s a monastrell made with spontaneous fermentation, 20 days of maceration. As you would expect from José Miguel there are absolutely no additions, and no fining nor filtration.

Cerro Encinas 2014 (Vin. & Bod. Marenas)

Dark cherry red. Dark berries, plums, sundried tomatoes, rosehips. Good concentration, rich and meaty, lovely fruit and good tannins.

Price: Medium

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